Sally Flint

Book Review of An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Endorsed by Barack Obama and Elle - An American Marriage must be good!

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, it is one to read slowly as there is so much to savour in it. The relationships are complex and ever changing. The insight into human emotion and what makes people tick is really impressive. The plot holds together effectively and is well balanced. The use of first person, where different chapters are told by different characters, means that everyone gets to ‘have their say’. As such the structure is simple but effective.

The story unfolds after the one of the protagonists, Roy, is wrongly accused of rape. He then goes on to serve five years of a twelve year sentence. Jones doesn’t explore the trial in any detail but it underpins all that follows; had Roy been a white man rather than black then it is extremely unlikely that his accuser would have jumped to the conclusion that he was a rapist. 

The only part of the story I didn’t find convincing was the development when Roy went on to share a cell with his biological father. It did, however, provide an opportunity for father/son relationships to be effectively explored in the text. Barack Obama and Elle both rave about the book, so I guess for the majority this isn’t a big criticism. (As an aside, have you noticed how authors tend to have quite big names recommend their books these days. I noticed the same thing in Rosie Walsh’s The Man Who Didn’t Call which Liane Moriarty recommended.

Book Discussion Questions for An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

  • Celestial and Roy are newly-weds but with very different career ambitions. Roy embodies the values of the American Dream whereas Celestial is from a wealthy background and is able to pursue a more artistic career without profit being her sole aim. Do you think that their different backgrounds would have prevented their marriage from being successful regardless of Roy’s wrongful conviction?
  • If Roy hadn’t gone to jail would Celestial have sought solace in the arms of Andre sooner or later anyway?
  • What life lessons does Roy learn from spending time with his father in the cell?
  • Why was Celestial prepared to have sex wtih Roy after he was released from jail?
  • Who do you think will have the happiest future – Celestial and Andre or Roy and Davinia?
  • How would you describe the marriage between Roy’s parents? Compare it to that between Celestial’s parents. 
  • Why does Celestial’s father resent her so much for leaving Roy and forming a relationship with Andre?
  • What are the key themes explored in the novel? Do you think one theme has more significance than the rest?
  • Why do you think Tayari Jones tells us so little about the actual trial of Roy?
  • (Only for a bookclub where you all know each other well and you are not quickly offended! ) Look around your bookclub which person in the group is the most like Roy and which is most like Celestial? Why? 
  • Discuss how gender is a signficant theme explored in An American Marriage? 

Book Club Questions for An American Marriage (if you haven't read the book!)

  • An American Marriage uses the first person to express directly the thoughts, words and emotions of the characters in the story? What are the advantages and disadvantages of books written using a first person narrative? 
  • From the outset of this story there is an implication that Celestial doubts Roy’s fidelity. Can a relationship be successful without trust?
  • An American Marriage is described in many reviews as being ‘nuanced and evocative’. What other books would you apply these adjectives to? 
  • What is the biggest barrier to a successful marriage? Is it issues related to class, race or gender, or none of the above?
  • Put yourself in the situation where you were in a ‘precarious’ marriage to someone who was wrongly convicted for a crime that you knew they hadn’t committed. Would you stand by them? Why or why not?
  • Andre and Celestial are childhood friends? Do you think it is possible for friendships between men and women to exist without any hint of attraction or sexual tension between them?
Author Tayari Jones won the Women's Prize for Fiction 2019.

Summing up of Tayari Jones' An American Marriage

This is Tayari Jones’ fourth book, but I believe the first one to be published in the UK. I hadn’t come across her writing before but will now definitely seek out her other novels. There is flair and craft in every sentence she produces.

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